Bailout would be bad move for Detroit — and the rest of us
By Jack Markowitz
Published: Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Don't let anybody think Detroit is “too big to fail.”
It might instead be the biggest business challenge of the year precisely to let the city fail. Pain would have to be parceled out among all the creditors to do any good: municipal bondholders, vendors of goods and services to a deadbeat City Hall, and thousands of city retirees and politicians who went off into the sunset on a hollow promise to be pensioned handsomely lifelong, some as young as 50.
It is, of course, sad all around. But the alternative is economically nuts. That would be a federal bailout, for which we'll certainly hear compassionate pleading. Handing the bill to the rest of us would only weigh on the economy and not teach dozens of spendthrift cities like Detroit a lesson.
Think $18 billion.
That's at least how deep in overdue bills and unfunded liabilities elected leaders and employee unions took the Motor City before Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr filed for bankruptcy reorganization last month.
Catch that title, emergency manager? Not mayor, you'll notice. Orr had to be appointed by the governor of the state. Michigan's biggest city got so irresponsible in its 50-year slide from greatness that it couldn't govern itself. Democracy struck out.
Labor habitually wanted “more” at contract times, and elected officials went along because they still wanted to be elected. It was a mutual backscratch with the unions. And neither side seemed to notice the citizenry, jobs and businesses fleeing. The city, at 700,000-odd population, is a third of what it was at mid-20th century.
But a case for Uncle Sam To The Rescue? No way.
Yes, we bailed out banks “too big to fail.” And General Motors and Chrysler. But in those cases, financial terror was applied. The national and world economies are so interconnected now, we were told, that failure of the giants would spread, infect others and bring global Depression. We bought it.
But a failing city is different. The damage in a Detroit bailout would be more Detroits. Every public treasury over-milked by its politicians and unions would go clamoring to Washington. Might as well flash a green light to keep abusing the system.
The air is already filled with bad ideas to shield Detroit from retribution. One trial balloon would have the federal government raid an alleged surplus set up for Obamacare. Another would sell treasures of the Detroit Institutes of Art, never mind that it's a tourist draw that will bring in dollars long into the future.
Bankruptcy isn't an end; it's a beginning. Bondholders will lose but not everything, and pensioners' checks won't fall to all zeroes. What an opportunity in fact for retirees' families and charitable institutions to give the oldsters a helping hand.
Detroit's community groups ought to brainstorm new programs to improve neighborhood peace without more police. And are teachers unions listening? Better schools would bring people back to any city. Why not also explore the budget savings in privatization of more public services?
One thing Detroit mustn't do is raise local taxes, a sure way to repel business and resurgent population.
Who knows but that we're witnessing the birth pangs of the comeback of a great city. Wasn't it an urban politician who said never let a crisis go to waste?
Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Kovacevic: Still waiting on Malkin, Crosby
- Rossi: Lack of together time showing for Penguins’ defense
- Fleury a bright spot among struggling Penguins in playoffs
- Change in kidney allocation rules expected to help patients
- Pastors offer help in days following Franklin Regional stabbings
- Talent on ice, effort off it help franchise grow hockey in Columbus
- Gov. Corbett’s re-election campaign ‘unflappable’ amid challenges, criticism
- Mailings from Pa. incumbents to potential new constituents under fire
- Murrysville woman shares her many tales as a professional storyteller
- Blue Jackets, city relish first playoff victory